In-Person Event: Dr George Legg on dynamite violence and print culture

Dr George Legg (Senior Lecturer in Liberal Arts, KCL) will be kicking off 2024 with a session on dynamite violence and print culture. As usual, the group is open to all and informal (with refreshments), taking place in person at Senate House, London – Room 35, Ground Floor – on 9th January 2024, 6:00pm – 7:15pm. For more information about the LLRG, see Literary London Reading Group ( or our X @london_rg.


Written in the wake of the Fenian dynamite campaign, and in response to Martial Bourdin’s ill-fated attempt to blow-up the Greenwich Observatory, Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel – The Secret Agent – is fascinated with how London’s urban violence is captured by the city’s burgeoning print culture. While much attention has been paid to the language of written media in Conrad’s text, little consideration has been given to illustrated news. With press illustrations expanding in the wake of technological innovations, the arrival of new forms of dynamite violence further animated this mode of representation. The result, as Conrad’s novel documents, was a form of news media which thrived on ideas of melodrama at the expense of empathy. Plotting this affective outcome, my paper emphasises how ideas of profit and revenue generation not only drove this process, but fundamentally transformed the violence depicted as a consequence.  

In the age of televisual news and camera-phone “witnessing”, peeling back to Conrad’s nineteenth-century critique can help us understand the broader affective engineering that still subtends these mediums. More than this, however, by attending to the capitalist motivations for such manipulation it is also possible to glimpse a counter-image by which urban violence might be better understood. This alternative can, I suggest, push the viewer towards a more compassionate understanding of the politically overdetermined concept acts of “terrorism” have now become.

About the speaker:

George Legg is a Senior Lecturer in Liberal Arts at King’s College London. His research concerns the aesthetics and politics of capitalism, particularly as it relates to the built environment. He is author of the monograph Northern Ireland and the Politics of Boredom: Conflict, Capital and Culture (Manchester University Press: 2019). Most recently he has published an article on racial capitalism and London’s West India Dock in the radical journal of geography Antipode; he also has an article forthcoming in the literature journal Textual Practice, on Kae Tempest’s performance poetry and London’s gentrification.